On their bold new album, the sounds of Guster are a-changin’
In the entire history of popular music, it’s the bands and musicians that have been most chameleon-like throughout their careers that have always proven the most intriguing.
The most obvious examples are folks like Neil Young, David Bowie, David Byrne, Todd Rundgren and yes, the Beatles, artists whose every successive album generally gave no hint about what to expect next. Although it can be said to some degree what environs they’re engaged in, all avoided typecasting while managing to exceed expectations.
For their part, Guster has done the same, always endeavoring to give their fans something surprising with each new outing. While they’ve built a career on populist appeal, their fan-friendly attitude has developed alongside a genuine sense of spontaneity, a feeling of positivity and purpose that illuminates whatever new work they have to offer.
Of course, there are also risks involved when it comes to defying their norms and dabbling with their sound. Neil Young, for one, alienated both critics and consumers when he opted to delve into the synthesized sounds of Trans and Re-ac-tor, two of his most polarizing offerings in an otherwise impressive career.
No worries about Guster, however, at least not yet. We can currently credit them with expanding their sonic palette thanks to Look Alive, an album that stays true to its title by adding an extra element of exuberance and intrigue. Happily, accessibility isn’t sacrificed in the process. It’s ensured to a great extent by the percolating beats and determined drive accorded by drummer and percussionist Brian Rosenworcel, an essential asset who effectively underscores each offering by providing whatever rhythms the material calls for.
Still, it’s the band’s two vocalists and multi-instrumentalists, Adam Gardner and Ryan Miller, that set the stage for each of the album’s entries. The mood varies from the high pitched harmonies of “Look Alive” and the euphoric enticement of “Summertime” and “Terrified,” to the hushed ambiance of “Not For Nothing” and the ominous introspect of “Mind Kontrol,” the latter of which comes courtesy of a spectral keyboard sound supplied by Luke Reynolds.
It’s been four years since Guster’s last album, an understated effort ironically entitled Evermotion. Where that album generally kept to a lower, less emphatic approach, Look Alive is mostly upbeat. Yet here, again, the group opts for the unexpected. “Overexcited” sounds like a lost outtake from a klassic Kinks album of mid to late ‘60s vintage, down to the affected English accent. “Hello Mister Sun,” finds them taking a lesson from vintage Pink Floyd in all its gloomy glory.
Still, for all the oddities and affectations, Guster retain their characteristic charms, all the elements that continue to make this Boston-based band such fan favorites. Look Alive offers a lesson in how to throw a few curve balls, while effectively tapping into new terrain. That, then, is the best of both worlds and a trait that this band can be justly proud of.
Credit them with using their invention for good intentions.